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Playing well together

Pamela Feinsilber | December 28, 2011 | Lifestyle Story Galleries and Performance City Life Profiles Culture Best of the Bay

Despite its Oscars, Milk left at least one person unsatisfied. “I understood that it was about using one person’s life and death as a symbol for a civil rights struggle, for gay rights,” says Jonathan Moscone, artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater and the son of Mayor George Moscone, who was killed that November day in 1978 along with Harvey Milk. “But that inevitably diminished anyone else’s role in the story—and emotionally, it tore me apart.” To address the oversight, he and his old friend Tony Taccone, artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre, developed Ghost Light—part fiction, part fact—which premieres this month. Taccone wrote the play; Moscone directs it. Two pro fessional egos, one attached to the words, the other to the material—the potential for confl ict was enormous. How did they handle it? JAN. 6–FEB. 19, BERKELEY REPERTORY THEATRE, 2025 ADDISON ST., BERKELEY, 510-647-2949, BERKELEYREP.ORG

San Francisco: it certainly seems like you two have remained friends.
Jonathan Moscone: you know, I was the first vulnerable person, but when Tony started writing, he became a vulnerable person. eventually, we understood there was a sequence: it was my turn to be vulnerable, his turn to be vulnerable; my turn to be strong, his turn to be strong; my turn to listen, his turn to listen.

SF: What’s something specific that it took a while to agree on?
Tony Taccone: My first ending was a kind of chorus of voices talking about George Moscone. the most emotional parts to write were about the boy, and how the boy was connected to his dad. i wrote them in poetic language that for me was deeply evocative.
JM: Those lines sounded beautiful on the page and in the workshop readings. it wasn’t until I started rehearsing the play that I realized, “Oh, this isn’t—”
TT: (Completing the thought) “What’s the dramatic action of this scene?” it turned out, those were the least successful parts of the play, since they weren’t based in character. But the hardest thing for me to do was to let go of some of that language.
JM: Now the ending is a dance between the younger Jon and George. But here’s another example of where we disagreed. almost no writer insists on a particular song being played at a particular emotional time, but for the last event of the last scene, tony had written, “a song, e.g., Brian Eno’s ‘Spider and I.’ ”I hadn’t even heard it, but I thought, “No, I’ll figure that one out myself.”
TT: I would have done the same thing.
JM: And I told Tony, “It’s gonna be the carpenters.” I associate them with my dad and my mom when i was a kid. He said, “It can be anything, but it’s not gonna be the Carpenters.” I said, “Yeah, it’s gonna be ‘Close to You.’ ”He said, “No.”
TT: (Laughs)
JM: Then, when we rehearsed in Ashland [Oregon], I decided to do the scene with ‘Spider’ to see what it would be like before I definitively threw it out. It really worked, so I decided to go with it.

SF: What changed your mind?
JM: The song is a waltz, which is a great way for the father and son to dance.


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